One of the first things I do when we move is make dentist appointments because it usually takes an eternity to get an appointment. I don’t have any good advice on picking a dentist, though. This year I selected the dentist whose office is in walking distance of my house. Whether or not he’s a good dentist remains to be seen, but my criteria for choosing resources in my current residence revolve around the ability to get there on foot. So since I can’t help much with the whole dentist thing, I’m choosing to focus on preschool selection instead. This is one of the other “first tasks” I do when we move. (This ranks up there with hanging shower curtains, buying toilet paper, and changing the address on the dog’s microchip so when he escapes we can get him back.)
Before I go into the details of how I find prospective preschools, I will lecture you a bit on Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP). Okay, I’ll try not to lecture, but instead use my extensive education to dazzle you. Basically, DAP is the practice of teaching young children in the way they learn best. That is a very broad definition, but it sums it up nicely. For starters, preschool-age children learn through play. So if you have ever observed a preschool program and thought, “all they do is play the whole time.” That is a good thing. A DAP preschool program usually involves a classroom environment that is set up for exploration through the use of learning centers. Generally a good portion of school time is devoted to the children being able to choose freely which centers they want to play in. Some other portions of the schedule include circle time and outdoor play among other things. While you may be thinking, “but I want my kid to know her alphabet and be able to count to 100,” I’m here to tell you that the best way to achieve that goal is NOT through making him or her sit at a table doing worksheets for long periods of time. If you enroll your child in a good DAP program you will be amazed at the things he or she will come home talking about. (For example, after a few weeks of school, my preschooler came home telling us, “The sun is a star!” At a visit to an aquarium she delighted in pointing out the various rays swimming around in the big tank.) Okay. Enough of the philosophical lecturing. On to the good stuff.
There are two websites I visit when looking for a new preschool. One is the website for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). This is THE organization for early childhood education. They are at the forefront of research, advocacy, and policy-making for and about young children. They have an extensive accreditation program. To find accredited programs in your area, visit their site http://www.naeyc.org/accreditation/search.
The second website I always visit is the site for the United Methodist Church. One thing I have learned is that Methodist preschool programs are always developmentally appropriate even if they aren’t accredited. I start by using the website’s church finder http://archives.umc.org/Directory/ChurchDirectory.asp?ptid=1&mid=222 . Once I find churches in my area, I look to see which ones have preschool programs. This method of finding a great preschool has worked for me two moves in a row, so I highly recommend it. Also, in case you are wondering, it doesn’t matter if you aren’t a member of the Methodist denomination. (We aren’t either.) They aren’t exclusive…they even let us in.
I hope some of this advice has been helpful. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any more specific questions. I’ll try to answer them, or at least I’ll try to sound intelligent while making something up. Also, if you would like to read more about DAP, I suggest the book Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs edited by Sue Bredekamp and Carol Copple. It is not the most riveting book you will ever read and there may be others that are more user-friendly, but this one is extensive and is basically the handbook for DAP.